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City Council ready to extend water

Thursday, August 3, 2000 by

Impoverished subdivision outside city limits

The subdivision labeled by media reports as Travis County's "colonia," because of its lack of water and leaking septic systems, will get an opportunity for City of Austin water service today.

The City Council will consider authorizing a deal that would extend a 6-inch water pipeline to Northridge Acres, a community of about 200 homes that straddles the Travis and Williamson county lines off of F.M. 1325 west of IH-35. The residents currently rely on water from a nearby fire hydrant since the subdivision's only well went dry.

Council Member Danny Thomas helped negotiate an agreement with Northridge and city staff, who had objected to the residents' demands for a larger pipeline and extended payment terms for hookup. Northridge lies outside the city limits so the city has no obligation to provide any service. "Even though they're not in the city, they still need water," said Linda Dailey, Thomas' executive assistant, in a phone interview Wednesday evening.

However, some council members–tired of an ongoing feud and haggling with demanding Northridge residents–said they fail to see why the city is going with the 6-inch line instead of a 4-inch line previously recommended by staff. Both Council Member Daryl Slusher and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman questioned the change.

Furthermore, both said the city was being generous with its agreement to let the subdivision pay off a $20,000 hookup fee over seven years. "I'm just really curious why they need two more inches," said Goodman. The additional capacity could carry additional cost or provide water to additional development, she said. Goodman said she has requested an official response from city staff on the matter. "We have gone above and beyond what we reasonably should be expected to do….We have people in the city limits we've annexed who are without water," she added.

Although the Northridge residences are very modest, some of them are well-maintained. However, high-dollar subdivisions and retail developments are springing up around them. The City of Round Rock is quick to annex those developments, while denying annexation to Northridge.

The City of Austin annexed Northridge Acres at one point in the late 1980s, only to receive a petition from residents a few years later asking to be de-annexed, Slusher said. The city obliged, and some council members were angered by the demanding attitude of residents who came knocking for water when their well ran dry and Round Rock shunned them.

Nettie Brown, a member of the Northridge Acres Water Supply Corporation board, reportedly has spearheaded the most recent efforts to get the city water, larger line and extended payoff period. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Another Northridge Acres resident, Fidel Acevedo, agreed with Goodman's assessment of his neighbor's poor negotiating skills over the years. It's not right to demand "that the city government pay for everything," he said.

Dailey pointed out, however, that the residents would be paying for the line through the hookup fee and their monthly water fees. She said the negotiation between the residents and city staff has finally gotten a positive outcome with a different ear from the city. "They met with all of the old council members, and I guess they felt they would have a better chance with a new council member, " she said.

Sterile fish, pesticide possibilities discussed

Hydrilla, the Asian water weed that found its way to the United States decades ago, just keeps growing in Lake Austin. But the Environmental Board made a strong statement Wednesday by recommending that the City Council take stringent and immediate steps to get rid of the "obnoxious weed."

Board Member George "Buzz" Avery was upset over the delay in attacking the hydrilla explosion, and he said the entangling plant endangers the lives of swimmers and boaters. "My whole motion here was that the City Council needs to get more aggressive about this whole thing," said Avery.

Hydrilla now covers roughly 10 percent–about 150 acres–of Lake Austin's waterways and homeowners on the lake are starting to feel its effects as they try to navigate the thick strands in their boats.

"This problem just keeps getting worse every time we hear about it," said Board Member Ramon Alvarez. The city has known about the hydrilla problem since July of 1999, when a 23-acre bloom was discovered near the Loop 360 boat ramp.

Mary Gilroy, a city environmental scientist, told the board that the city wanted to use sterile carp to eradicate–or at least control–the hydrilla, but the required permit for the fish was denied by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Officials at the state agency said concerns about carp destroying habitat for bass and other game fish was a primary reason for refusing the permit.

Other control techniques include herbicides and "harvesting," manually mowing away surface hydrilla. All the proposals have their drawbacks, according to Gilroy. The herbicides, copper-based chemicals approved in low levels for drinking water supplies like Lake Austin, usually aren't effective enough to totally eradicate the plants. Harvesting is time-consuming and the disposal of mowed hydrilla is expensive and problematic. Clearing just one-acre can take an entire day and fill more than a dozen dump trucks, Gilroy said. Finally, in addition to worries about carp destroying native plants, board members worried that non-sterile carp would slip into the stock and infect the lakes with yet another harmful non-native species.

Although well aware of the dangers from the carp, most of the board members expressed even more concern over the idea of using herbicides in drinking water. Avery considered asking the city to explore legal action against TPWD for refusing the carp permit.

Gilroy said the city staff now recommends a combined strategy of using small amounts of herbicide and small numbers of carp together. The reduced number of carp might make TPWD more receptive to the idea, she said.

However, board members said the city needs more help in determining the best course of action, and suggested that a team of scientific experts "assist in recommending a strategy."

Gilroy said TPWD will have new data next week on just how far the hydrilla has spread. The weeds spread by floating downstream and taking root, and by clinging to boats that move from lake to lake.

The Environmental Board also unanimously recommended a $243,000 contract for erosion control after a tributary of Boggy Creek threatened several grave sites in East Austin's Highland Park Cemetery. The contract with Salas Constructors Inc. now awaits approval by the City Council.

The cemetery, East of Airport Boulevard between 12th and 16th streets, is also known as the Evergreen Cemetery. "A few years ago we noticed that erosion was affecting graves, some of them more than 100 years old," said George Walker, a project manager with the city's Watershed Protection Department.

The city consulted the Texas Historical Commission before initiating the plan, which would shore up the creek banks, Walker said.

Money for the project would come from Drainage Utility funds plus $100,000 in moving expense money not spent by city staff when the department moved to its temporary office space at One Texas Center on Barton Springs Road.

Hold that exit line…Planning Commission Chair Art Navarro sang his swan song at Tuesday’s commission meeting, expecting the City Council to name his replacement this week. Word around City Hall Wednesday was that no Planning Commission appointments would be made before Aug. 17. There is no Council meeting next week and the Planning Commission is taking the week off too. Former City Attorney Diana Granger is being discussed for a Commission appointment, but has not yet filed the necessary application form. For anyone who postponed a case in hopes of seeing new faces at the commission’s Aug. 15 meeting, sorry… Reports of his demise greatly exaggerated…Buzz Avery will be going to Chicago today, not being honored as a retiring member of the city’s Environmental Board. The announcement of City Council proclamations which went out earlier this week included Avery’s name. However, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said she will reappoint him when he gets his application in to the City Clerk’s Office. Requests for proclamations have to go in many weeks in advance. Somehow, the right people never got word that Avery is not quite ready to retire… The rules process continues… Water and Wastewater Commissioners decided last night to allow the group’s on site sewage facilities (OSSF) rules committee to continue reworking the regulations. Commissioner Lanetta Cooper said she anticipates the group will meet at least four more times, every other Monday starting Aug. 16…Helpers wanted… Everyone is invited to Save Barton Creek Association’s city parks trail repair project at the Spyglass trailhead on the Barton Creek Greenbelt this Saturday, from 7:00am to 2:00pm. Continental Breakfast, lunch and plenty of cold water will be served. Bring work gloves, hat, sunscreen. No pets please. Participants will meet at the Spyglass entrance to the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Work is scheduled from 7:30 AM until 2 PM. Directions: Exit off of MoPac onto Barton Skyway (2nd exit south of Town.Turn left onto Barton Skyway, cross over MoPac and proceed on Barton Skyway to Spyglass Drive. The trail entrance is at the intersection of Barton Skyway and Spyglass Drive (1500 Spyglass Drive is the address)…Another Austin site… Downtown Austin Alliance wants you to visit its “new and improved” web site at downtownaustin.com..

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